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Answering Landlord & Real Estate Investor Questions During the Coronavirus

Last updated June 29, 2020 @ 11:25 a.m.

RPOA has compiled a list of answers to frequently asked questions asked by landlords and real estate investors in Michigan that have arisen due to the coronavirus. This list is updated as more information and answers become available.

The RPOA office is now open to members for appointment only visits three days per week (click here to learn more). Staff is also available to assist members over the phone Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm. RPOA members please call (616) 454-3385 if you have any questions.

Evictions & Other Court Actions

 

Q: Can I evict a tenant? 

A: Update:  The eviction moratorium has been extended to July 15, 2020.

Yes and no.  The State Court Administrators Office (SCAO) confirmed with the RPOA that evictions can move forward for the following reasons:

1. Where the tenant poses an imminent and severe risk to property.
2. Drug activity. (While this is not spelled out in the EO, the RPOA has it from SCAO that this type of eviction is allowed.)

That’s it. No evictions for non-payment of rent, non-payment of utilities, or any other violation of the lease—including holding over (the tenant did not move out at the end of the lease). You may send a notice for any of the above issues and file a complaint in court. You’ll need to contact the district court to determine how they wish you to file the complaint. You’ll most likely need to do this via the mail or email. If you do not get a response from the court or the court appears to be putting up a roadblock for these allowable evictions, contact SCAO at (517) 373-0128. Members are encouraged to contact one of the RPOA’s referral attorneys to get assistance as necessary.  (See more on evictions below.)

Q:  Doesn’t the CARES Act prohibit certain evictions as well?

A:  Yes.  The CARES Act prohibits an eviction for non-payment of rent where the property is:

1. Under a covered housing program (as defined in section 41411(a) of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (being 34 USC 12491(a)).
2. Part of the rural housing voucher program under section 542 of the Housing Act of 1949 (42 USC 1490r).
3. Backed by a federal mortgage loan.
4. Backed by a Federal multifamily mortgage loan.

Q:  I heard that I can still demand payment of rent.  Is that correct?

A:  Yes.  The Michigan executive order (EO) regarding evictions specifically states: “Nothing in this order shall be construed to abrogate the obligation to pay or right to receive payment due under a lease, nor to prohibit a landlord from making a demand for the payment of rent.”  The tricky part is that the order further states that “any demand for the payment of rent, however, must not include a demand for possession, or other threat of eviction, based on the nonpayment of rent.”  This means you can’t use a normal “Demand for Possession, Non-Payment of Rent” form, as this form has lots of language stating possible eviction or the necessity of moving out if rent isn’t paid by a certain date.  So, what is one to do?  There are several legal opinions on this topic.  At this point, there is no “Demand for Payment of Rent” form.  If you wish to send a demand for payment, we recommend contacting an attorney.  Also, if you send the demand for payment, what kind of complaint would be filed if the tenant doesn’t act?  At this point, since you can’t demand possession, it seems that such a demand will only result in a filing similar to a small claims case for a money judgment.  Since the EO does not allow personal service until after May 15, obtaining a money judgment is also postponed until after that date.

Essentially, doing any type of formal legal notice for non-payment of rent to your tenants at this time seems problematic.  (The RPOA has requested clarification on demand for non-payment of rent from SCAO.  As of this date, we do not have a response.)  You can certainly send a letter requesting payment of rent and explain the continued obligation to pay rent under the EO.  As for serving a formal notice, the opinion of some attorneys is landlords should wait until the moratorium is lifted to send a demand for possession for non-payment of rent.  (This may be updated at some point with further guidance from SCAO.)

Q: If a notice to quit, etc. was served prior to the eviction moratorium, will the notice have to be re-served after the moratorium is lifted? How long is a notice good for before it has to be redone?

A: Existing notices remain valid and re-service is not required. If you accept rent from tenants, particularly those on a month-to-month basis, landlords should consider service of an updated notice following the lifting of the existing Executive Order to ensure that the tenant does not raise a legal defense at the hearing.

Q: If a complaint was filed before the eviction moratorium was put in place but the case was not heard, do I have to file a new complaint?

A: No, the State of Michigan has administratively adjourned the deadlines normally requiring prompt hearing of eviction/forfeiture matters. Your complaint remains on the court’s docket and will be re-noticed for hearing once the State of Michigan lifts the moratorium.

Q: If I received a possession judgment before the eviction moratorium, what is the latest date I can execute a writ? What happens if I can’t execute the writ within this time frame before the moratorium is lifted? Will I have to start all over again?

A: You cannot personally serve or execute a writ or conduct an eviction during the moratorium, except for the allowable evictions under the executive order. The State of Michigan has administratively adjourned the deadlines normally requiring service of the writ which would otherwise require execution within 56 days of its issuance. Landlords should have an issued writ executed within 56 days following the lifting of the moratorium.

Q: Can I serve notices on my tenants even though there is a moratorium on evictions? If not, when can I start doing so?

A: You can serve demands for rent upon your tenants so long as the demand does not include a demand for possession or threaten eviction unless the person poses a substantial risk to another person or an imminent and severe risk to property. In addition, all notices that require personal services must wait until after the moratorium is lifted.

Q: Can I still file a small claims action in court? Will there be delays for small claims hearings?

A: Yes, you can file small claims court actions on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis but those filings are likely not to be processed or heard until the courts reopen.

Q: What if I have a writ already but haven’t yet put the tenant out? Can I still do that?

A: If for the reasons noted above, yes. (Keep in mind though that some local police department’s may not be up to speed on what evictions can and can’t be done. So, don’t be surprised if you get challenged on this.) For anything else, I think the “stay at home” rules apply…so, as far as we understand it, no you can’t execute a writ for any other reason.

Repairs & Maintenance

 

Q: Can I repair damages or broken items in a rental?

A: Yes. However, care should be taken to use safety practices that prevent exposure to the virus for all involved, including the tenant.

Q:  Is the City of Grand Rapids enforcing exterior code violations?

A:  Yes…to an extent. The RPOA was informed that the City of Grand Rapids will continue to enforce outside and interior violations where they pose a health and safety concern. In the answer to what that might include from an exterior point of view, the city noted some of the following:

Bags of trash.
Chipped paint on the ground.
Broken windows.
Damaged roofs that may cause structural damage or where it is causing leaks into the property.
Piles of brush, wood, etc. that might harbor rodents.
Overgrown shrubs or trees blocking sidewalks.

What the city noted was not considered an immediate concern (at least not yet) are leaves and tall grass. The city also acknowledged that the Governor’s executive order specifically states no landscaping work.  (However, this may change as of April 30.)

Update as of April 22, 2020:  Starting April 22, the City of Grand Rapids will no longer automatically respond to complaints from the public for housing violations and will analyze complaints in more detail generated by city staff. The new approach, as explained, will take the city back to how things were done 20+ years ago.

City inspection staff will meet (virtually) as a group and look at every complaint generated individually to determine a course of action. Each complaint will be looked based on the seriousness of the violation and the extent of exposure a landlord or their contractors would face carrying out the work. The city explained they want to use commonsense when deciding what needs done to protect everyone to the greatest extent possible.

Q:  Are cities still carrying out rental inspections and certifications?

A:  Cities are planning to restart inspection soon.

The City of Grand Rapids will begin rental certifications again on June 15. Rental certification inspections will be done with some new stipulations. The City staff will be wearing full PPE and only four people may be present at the inspection (per State recommendation) which includes the inspector, the occupant and owner/manager. Owners/managers and anyone present will be required to wear a mask during the inspection. (Tenants do not have to be present. However, tenants must give permission for the inspection.) City staff will be asking everyone involved if they are ill or have been in contact with someone who had or has COVID-19, and if the answer is yes, the inspection will be rescheduled. There will be no penalties for rescheduled inspections. The City is also looking into doing re-inspections (those after the initial inspection) virtually through Microsoft Teams. The City informs the RPOA that updates to this information will be provided on their website.
There is a significant backlog of inspections–so it may be a few weeks or months before a property is inspected. Landlords and managers should contact the City and schedule their inspections as soon as practical. Certs have been extended for the number of days that the executive orders disallowing inspections were in place.

Wyoming – All non-complaint based rental inspections are cancelled through April. Regular certification rental inspections are currently scheduled to begin again June 1 (as of April 27); however, we continue to look to the Governor’s Executive Orders for direction and as such, this may change. Complaint based investigations continue based upon individual circumstances including type, severity, and public safety risk. Staff are implementing wearing of gloves for interior inspections and maintaining social distancing of 6’, hand washing protocols, etc. consistent with the CDC, Health Department, and our City Risk Controller’s direction.

Kentwood – COVID-19 UPDATE: All inspections (building, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and rental) are suspended until further notice to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect both Kentwood residents and City employees from potential exposure. Additional updates will be provided on our website. Notices requesting landlords to reschedule rental inspections will be mailed with a reasonable time frame to make arrangements when it is advised and safe to do so by the Kent County Health Department. Policies are changing rapidly as more information becomes available on this novel coronavirus and continue to be subject to swift change. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate these unprecedented times. Rental inspections will likely be one of the last services that are reinstated by the City in line with a full reopening of the economy.

Q: What if I’m an “at risk” person and I need to do work necessary to keep a rental safe and in a healthy condition?

A: You can use a professional person that is considered a critical infrastructure worker or designate another person (where licenses are not required to do the work) as a critical infrastructure worker and have them complete the job. Any work done by anyone should be done following the published guidelines to protect everyone from exposure to the virus.

Q: What if a tenant refuses to let me or a critical infrastructure person into a rental to do work that is necessary to maintain the unit in a safe and habitable condition? 

A: We don’t know the specific answer to this question with the current moratorium on evictions. However, we would suggest contacting the police department’s non-emergency line (not 911) to get guidance on what may or may not be done or to get assistance with gaining access.

Yard and Waste Cleanup

 

Q: Can I do yard cleanup at my rentals, send out an employee or my lawn care service to do this type of work?

A: Yes.

Q: Will my trash removal service to be operating?

A: Yes, sanitation activities are allowed.

Showing and Leasing Properties

Updated:  May 21, 2020, 7:56 a.m.

Q: Can I show a property to a prospective buyer?

A:  Yes.

Q: Can I still take rental applications and screen tenants?

A: Yes.

Q: Can I show rentals to prospective tenants?

A: Yes!  Following all the other safety precautions under the stay at home order should be followed, i.e. distancing of six feet and wearing mask and doing as much of the work remotely as possible.

“Virtual tours” are also another option.  Services providing those capabilities can be found online.

Q: Can I do what is necessary to lease a unit and move in a new tenant?

A: Yes.

Q: Can I do what is necessary to move a tenant out?

A: Yes.

Q:  Can I do move-ins/outs and execute leases?

A:  Yes.

Rental Payments and Security Deposits

 

Q: What is the RPOA’s position on reduced and/or deferring rent?

A: With record numbers of unemployed people and with deep losses of income for many workers, it is inevitable tenants will face issues with paying rent. While every rental property owner and management company must make their own decisions taking into account their financial situation, the RPOA is encouraging members to seek a way to soften the impact of upcoming rental payments and attempt to avoid future evictions. One way of doing this would be to simply discount the rent temporarily. However, the RPOA would suggest, for those tenants facing an employment/income hardship, that deferring part of the rent until a future date would be a better approach. In other words, reduce the rent now and add it to future rent payments. Getting a little money now is better than nothing and not letting the tenant off the hook for the full rental amount is just good sound business sense.

A survey conducted by the RPOA on April 15 found that 76% of rents were paid in full, 7% made partial payments.  The main reason given for situations where partial rent was paid or no rent was paid was due to employment loss or income reduction due to COVID-19.

Q: Will I ultimately be able to collect unpaid rent?

A: Currently, the answer is yes. The executive order states that “nothing in this order shall be construed to abrogate the obligation to pay or right to receive payment due under a lease…” At some point in the future, you’ll be able to go to court. Keep in mind though, it could take months to go through the backlog of eviction cases.

Q: Do the time frames for returning security deposits differ under the executive orders?

A: No, all the same time frames for returning security deposits and sending out notices of damages are the same. Executive orders only affect evictions. (See the latest executive order regarding evictions here.)

Other Questions

 

Q: Is the RPOA doing anything at the state level to soften the blow for landlords?

A: Yes. The RPOA is also working with the Governor’s office to put in place financial assistance for tenants that were unable to pay rent due to loss of employment or a cut in wages due to COVID-19. No support is planned for those tenants that participated in the “rent strike.” The process will likely work very much like existing eviction prevention programs where the landlord receives payment of rent from a third party and the tenant is allowed to remain in the unit and the eviction case is expunged from their record. Additional resources to assist with past due rent are being sought by the State and may come from the Federal government. At this point, landlord participation is expected to be voluntary. However, landlords need to understand that financial payment from a third party would not be forthcoming if they choose not to participate.

More information will be made available as the RPOA learns about next steps, etc.

Q: Can I do other business activities that are not specific to repairs or moving a tenant in or out of a rental unit?

A: Yes.  Workers may return to the office if they cannot work remotely or are critical to the business operation and need to be at the office in person.  Any business or operation that requires its employees to leave their home or place of residence for work is subject to the rules on workplace safeguards in Executive Order 2020-97 or any order that may follow from it.

Q: Can I go to my rental property to deal with disturbances that are impacting other tenants?

A: Yes…as long as safeguards are taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

Q: Is construction allowed under the executive order?

A: Yes.

Q: Will my RRP certification be extended if there isn’t a refresher course available for me to take before my re-certification date is up?

A: At this time, we are not aware of any notification from the EPA on this issue. We recommend that those in this situation contact the EPA and ask this question and for clarification. As of now, the RPOA plans to resumes it’s refresher courses in June but the number of registrations will be restricted to comply with the six foot distancing guidelines.

The RRP refresher course is available online. You can find more information about online refresher courses here.

Q: How can I get forms from the RPOA office?

A: For the most part, just about every form that you can currently use is available online through the RPOA website. These forms are free and fillable. If you need hard copies of forms, we should be able to accommodate that with a slight delay.  We anticipate that the RPOA offices will be open on June 15 by appointment.  More will be posted on that as the decision is finalized.

Q:  Can I rent out my short-term rental?

A: Yes.  Vacation rentals were specifically listed as not allowed in the previous stay at home order. That order was rescinded and completely replaced with the latest order on June 1 which does NOT include any restrictions on vacation rentals or hotels. We’ve conferred with the Michigan Association of Realtors to see if they agree with us–and they do. Everyone should note that locals may put restrictions in place. So, it is important to check with the municipality you are located in–and perhaps the health department as well.
It is recommended that units should be left vacant for at least 24 hours between guest and guidelines should be followed for cleaning between guests. Contact free entry is also recommended so that no one needs to personally greet or meet guest upon arrival.

Q:  Can I insist that my employees do their work?

A:  No. Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-36, prohibiting all employers from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise retaliating against an employee for staying home from work if they or one of their close contacts tests positive for COVID-19 or has symptoms of the disease. Executive Order 2020-36 also strengthens the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order by declaring that it is the public policy of the state that all Michiganders who test positive or show symptoms, or who live with someone who tests positive or shows symptoms, should not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

Executive Order 2020-36 will remain in place until the end of the governor’s declared emergency or until otherwise rescinded.